A Best Practice Guide to Conducting an IT Audit

14 May 2019

All too often, the thought of a data security audit strikes fear into the heart of IT departments. We imagine an officious auditor interrupting the working day and sticking their nose in midway through a business-critical meeting. It’s easy to question the efficacy of such audits too, shouldn’t the risk assessments that you already have in place be enough to keep your data protected and form the basis of your security strategy? And finally, won’t an official audit be due at some point anyway, can’t you just wait for the results of that?

The truth is, internal audits are often overlooked, misunderstood or even ignored completely until a business experiences a negative impact and has to undertake an expensive and lengthy process to repair overlooked issues. In undertaking an internal audit, everything from physical assets to data storage and access management must be considered. Each business will be different, and many may have bespoke IT settings with different assets to protect and defend. Therefore, a co-ordinated IT audit plan which caters to your business needs is a necessary tool to ensure that each of your internal controls are effective.

External vs Internal

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and carry out an IT audit, the next decision is whether to carry out the audit yourself or to pay an external auditor to do it for you.

There is a lot to be said for hiring an external auditing company to carry out an audit on your behalf. The right company will have a vast set of cybersecurity auditing software as well as a wealth of experience to ensure the audit is as detailed as possible. The drawback, of course, is that they don’t come cheap and finding the right company can be hard. Plus, the success of the project depends upon the communication between the auditor and your company.

All in all, an external audit tends to be a luxury rather than a necessary solution. On the other hand, internal audits are easy, effective and can be carried out as regularly as time allows. They can seem overwhelming to the untrained member of staff but, with a set of simple steps to follow and a clear outline of what you hope to achieve, this can be a stress-free and cost-effective solution.

The goals of your audit

The fundamental goal of any IT audit will be to check that all of your internal controls are functioning at an optimal level and that, should a negative event occur, they will be sufficient to minimise any risk to the business. Before carrying out your audit, identify your pain points and aim to determine whether your existing controls will protect your assets, maintain data integrity and ensure confidentiality. A good audit will offer valuable insights into your company’s strengths and weaknesses.

 

Typing on a laptop

Steps to success

Although all IT audit processes are unique, here all four steps each should incorporate for success.

 

Define the scope of your audit

Before you go any further, the first thing to do is define the scope of your audit. Whether you’re doing a generalised audit of security in your IT department or something more specific, draw a security perimeter around what needs to be audited and, for now at least, ignore the items outside of this perimeter. If you’re unsure where the boundaries should lie, create a list of your company or department’s most valuable assets and begin there.

 

Outline the risks

The audit process is a vital undertaking for any business and especially for an IT department. Create a list of all of the threats that your data faces. If you’re unsure where to start, consider the following:

  • Malware, ransomware and hacking – external hacking is one of the greatest threats to data security. However big or small your business, this should be considered a serious and credible threat.
  • Denial of Service (DoS) – don’t underestimate DoS attacks, legitimate users can be prevented from accessing specific computer systems, devices, services or other IT resources. An attack can flood servers, systems or networks with traffic in order to overwhelm resources and make it impossible for legitimate users to access them.
  • Natural disasters and physical breaches – relatively speaking, these should be rare occurrences but as the consequences could potentially be catastrophic, it’s important to have controls in place.
  • Malicious misuse – of course you trust your staff and you know they’d never consider using confidential data maliciously, but data can easily be misused or leaked by staff and third-party vendors and, to begin with, you might not even realise it’s happened.
  • Inadvertent misuse – as above, an honest mistake by an employee can lead to your security being compromised.
  • Phishing – hackers may get access to your network by targeting your staff with social engineering techniques, so they give up personal information willingly.

 

 Outlining risks on a computer to her colleague

Construct your security measures

Once you’ve taken into consideration all of the potential risks, examine which controls are in place and look to improve them or implement new controls for any that are missing. Common security measures include:

  • Firewall and antivirus – it may seem obvious but protect your network with firewalls and antivirus technology.
  • Anti-spam filter – again, it may almost seem too simple to mention but a correctly configured anti-spam filter can be a great line of defence against phishing attacks and malware. Similarly, ensure staff are educated on cybersecurity.
  • Regular data backup – data backup is vital in the event of natural disaster or malware attack that corrupts or denies you access to your own data. Ensure that backups are done regularly.
  • Physical server security – if you’re renting server space, this won’t be an issue but if you own your own servers then securing physical access is key.
  • Multi-factor authentication – multi-factor authentication is a must, as it greatly increases the security of login procedure and allows you to know who exactly accessed your data and when.
  • User privilege - ensure that you regulate the level of privilege users have and when creating new accounts, use principle of least privilege.

Plan the audit around existing risk assessments and cost implications. Include relevant personnel and stakeholders to ensure you know how your audit will affect business operations.

 

Man with dreadlocks works on laptop in dimly lit office

 

Test, address, re-test

Your audit process should process and collect data that alerts you to potential weaknesses in your IT systems. Review all policies and procedures, refer to your Business Impact Assessment and monitor the processes and procedures in action to ensure that all employees are aligned with their role within the security process. Once you’ve checked over all systems, identify any deficiencies and work out how to strengthen any limitations. This is key to a robust and effective IT audit.

 

Clear old hardware

It’s not just your current hardware which needs to be taken into consideration during IT audits, it’s vital that you ensure outdated and old pieces of equipment are audited. All old hardware should have all data effectively wiped and be cleared by a professional outfit.

 

And, that is where Computer Disposals Ltd can help, our professional team can effectively dispose of your old hardware. So, if you’re in the process of overhauling your IT systems, visit our homepage to find out about our IT disposals services or call us today on 02072619674 


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